8 Physical Signs of Impending Death in Dogs

There is arguably one thing that makes dogs imperfect, and that is they have a significantly shorter lifespan than humans.

Mar 15, 2023By Adeline Ee

While we can expect to live well into our 70s or 80s, the average dog only lives for 10-13 years. It's unfair that our canine companions don't get to stick around as long as we do, but we can take solace in the fact that they pack a lot of living into their short time with us. It is a grim topic, but one that we, as dog parents, will all have to face. What are the physical signs that it is nearing “that time”?


depressed dog

This isn't always because your dog is aware that he's dying. Instead, it's more likely that he's just not feeling well or has a bad case of the “blahs”. Signs that your dog might be depressed include your pooch not wanting attention from you, not doing things he enjoys, or a change in his sleeping patterns.

A depressed dog might also lose interest in some of the fun stuff like going for walks or taking a trip to the dog park. Don’t despair though, try coaxing him with loads of attention and fun time to see if that resonates.

Odd Breathing Patterns

old golden retriever

Just like humans, when a dog is on the verge of passing away, his normal bodily process may begin to fail. This may cause him to breathe strangely. Your dog's respiration may be either slow or very quick, seeming normal for a while before becoming laborious again. He might also seem to work extra hard to get the air out and in.

Loss of Coordination

staggering dog

When dogs reach the end of their lives, it is typical for them to lose coordination. They may lack the muscle power they once possessed, affecting their psychomotor skills and equilibrium.

One of the best things you can do is to take your aging dog for regular walks. Walking not only helps to keep your dog's muscles and joints healthy, but it also provides them with a chance to use their sense of smell to explore their surroundings. You can also try playing games with your dog to help them stay sharp.


doggy diaper

As dogs get older, they frequently lose control of their bladder. As a result, incontinence that develops quickly and is accompanied by other symptoms on this list could indicate that your dog's body is starting to shut down. If your beloved canine has lost bladder control, take him to the vet. Incontinence in dogs can, however, indicate a variety of health issues, most of which are curable.

Extreme Lethargy

tired dog

Your canine may not be as active as he once was, and he will most likely spend most of his time resting, refusing to go for walks, or playing when invited. Again, your pet's lethargy is common when he's unwell, so he could simply be feeling under the weather. However, inexplicable lethargy for prolonged periods, as well as lethargy accompanied by advanced age and other symptoms, could indicate that your dog is nearing the end.

Changing Appetite

dog with no appetite

A healthy dog is a hungry dog. When a dog is sick, one of the first things you may notice is that they stop eating. A loss of appetite in dogs can be caused by many different things, from gastrointestinal issues to pain.

If your dog has stopped eating, it's important to take them to the vet to rule out any serious health problems. In some cases, a change in diet may be all that's needed to get your dog's appetite back, while in others, a complete lack of appetite for prolonged periods might indicate that your dog is facing serious troubled times.

Increased Clinginess

clingy dog

When a canine reaches the end of his life, he may become clingier. He is likely to be in pain, and some dogs will seek consolation from their humans.

As your dog becomes frailer, they may become hesitant to leave your side in case they need your help. While it's normal for older dogs to be more clingy, there are still plenty of ways to keep them active and engaged, like going for walks or spending time indoors with some games to stimulate their mind.

They Run Off

dog walking off

You may have heard several stories of stray or wild dogs that escape to parts unknown to die. One school of thought on why dogs do this is because they feel sick and vulnerable and instinctively go off to hide and protect themselves.

Another theory is that older dogs wander off, get disoriented and lose their way, and then die. The last theory is that dogs, who are descended from wolves, are pack animals. A sick, or dying animal brings danger to the pack by attracting predators, so until this day, a dying canine would instinctively leave to protect the pack.


dog hug

A dog’s life is so unfairly short, but the best thing we can do is enjoy what little time we have with them and help them lead the best lives they could ever have.

So, hug your dog, take them for a walk, and spend some quality time with them, because one thing all dog parents know too-darn-well, is that all good things must come to an end.

Adeline Ee
By Adeline Ee

Adeline graduated from the University of Washington with a Bachelor of Arts in Mass Communication and Marketing. Originally from Singapore, she is a fanatic dog-lover and volunteers her time to help strays whenever she can, participating frequently in spay and neuter programs.